Canis ISSN: 2398-2942

Skin: primary seborrhea

Synonym(s): keratinization defect

Contributor(s): Rosanna Marsella, David Scarff, David Godfrey


  • This article refers to a specific set of congenital/hereditary conditions in certain breeds of dog:
    • Primary seborrhea of American Cocker Spaniels, West Highland White Terriers, English Springer Spaniel, and Basset Hound.
    • Less commonly, primary seborrhea of Chinese Shar Pei, Dachshunds, Dobermans, German Shepherd Dog, Labrador Retriever.
    • Seen in scattered related groups in other breeds.
  • There are other conditions that might be described as a primary skin disease with seborrhea, but are generally described as keratinization disorders or disorders of secondary seborrhea:
  • Cause: of primary seborrhea - a group of inherited disorders of keratinization or cornification.
  • Signs: scaly skin, often greasy, often malodorous; greasy otitis externa common.
  • Diagnosis: history, clinical signs, exclude causes of secondary seborrhea.
  • Treatment: management of secondary skin and ear infections, topical anti-seborrhea therapy and oral retinoids.
  • Prognosis: incurable. Variable response to symptomatic therapy



  • In West Highland White Terriers there is an autosomal recessive condition.


  • Genetically determined trait, causing (uncharacterized) cell defect → excessive epidermal cell turnover of the skin, hair follicle infundibulum and the sebaceous gland (American Cocker Spaniel).


  • Present at birth.
  • Lifelong.
  • Worsens over time.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Scott D W, Miller W H (1996) Primary seborrhea in English Springer Spaniels - a retrospective study of 14 cases. JSAP 37 (4), 173-178 PubMed.
  • Werner A H, Power H T (1994) Retinoids in veterinary dermatology. Clin Dermatol 12 (4), 579-586 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Miller W H, Griffin C E & Campbell K L (2013) Small Animal Dermatology. Philadelphia, W B Saunders. pp 573-576, 630-642. ISBN 978-1-4160-0028-0
  • Kwochka K W (1993) Keratinization abnormalities, understanding the mechanism of scale formation. In: Ihrke P J et al (eds) Advances in Veterinary Dermatology. Vol 2, pp 91. New York: Pergamon Press.